NEW YORK (RNS) — An early morning fire Saturday (Dec. 5) in Manhattan’s East Village neighborhood has destroyed the 128-year-old sanctuary of Middle Collegiate Church, one of the oldest congregations in the city.
Nearly 200 firefighters worked to put out the fire in a slow drizzling rain, according to reports from The Gothamist. There was no loss of life in the fire.
The six-alarm fire began on the first floor of a nearby five-story vacant apartment building on East Seventh Street in the East Village around 5 a.m. before igniting the church, FDNY officials told local ABC news reporters. The church’s roof was in flames by 6 a.m. The apartment building was reportedly vacant because of an earlier fire there in February.
“Unfortunately, it seems like it was pretty bad — the sanctuary is not in good shape and we have some beautiful Tiffany stain glass windows that are gone,” Middle Collegiate Church Minister Amanda Ashcraft told local reporters at the scene. “Horribly sad day for our congregation and for this neighborhood.”
In 2008, the church installed a Marshall & Ogletree digital organ that was developed with then organist-in-residence Cameron Carpenter and was considered one of the finest organs of its kind.
Middle Collegiate Church, led by Jacqueline J. Lewis, traces its roots back to the Reformed Dutch Church, which formed congregations in the New York area in the 1600s. Established in 1729, Middle Collegiate, known also simply as Middle Church, is the oldest of the city’s four Collegiate churches, which include Marble Collegiate Church on Fifth Avenue, where Norman Vincent Peale was pastor for decades.
Middle Collegiate moved into the East Village location in 1892, according to the church’s website.
“We are devastated and crushed that our beloved physical sanctuary at Middle Collegiate Church has burned,” Rev. Lewis said in a statement provided to RNS. “And yet no fire can stop Revolutionary Love.”
The church, which describes itself as “multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, and fully inclusive,” has become known for its strong social justice outlook, particularly regarding racial justice and LGBTQ issues. The church, Lewis said, would continue to meet digitally, as they have been doing since March, due to COVID-19 safety measures.
“We know that God does not cause these kinds of tragedies but is present with us and to us as we grieve, present in the hugs and prayers of loved ones,” said Lewis. “We pray for the first responders. We pray for our neighbors who are also affected by this fire. And we covet your prayers as we grieve.”